Letting Injustice Rip
We all know the rationale behind lockdowns: to stop the health service being overwhelmed by limiting the spread of the virus and to save lives. We also know the problems with lockdowns, in both national and local manifestation. There is, of course, the disruption to our personal lives, which has been considerable. Then there are the larger issues of the impact on the economy, the rise in mental health problems, and so on. And we know the almost impossible demands upon national leaders as they have to make huge decisions and wrestle with very different opinions as to how the pandemic should be handled.
In his various updates the Prime Minister has been using the phrase, “We cannot just let the virus rip.” This is a somewhat pejorative expression, aimed at the likes of the signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, who advocate a different approach from that being pursued by the government. It is clearly meant to imply that those who question the strategy are careless of human life and health. But if the impact of lockdown is anything like what David Nabarro suggests then what we are really seeing rip is terrible injustice to the poor.
This should be an issue of concern for Christians, who are called to the cause of the poor; but it is not an easy one to parse. There is no simple equation for calculating what saving one life in the West might do to exacerbate the poverty of many in the developing world. But it is an issue that should influence how we respond to government policy.
In 2017 689 million people were living in extreme poverty (on less than $1.90 per day). This was terrible but the number of people living at this level of poverty had actually been falling for more than twenty years. If Nabarro is anywhere near correct we could witness the shocking reality of all that work being undone and hundreds of millions more people falling into extreme poverty. That will mean millions and millions of children who have their life chances entirely blighted. It will mean huge numbers of children dying.
Measuring the value of one life against another is invidious, but it is not irrelevant that in England & Wales there have so far been just six deaths of children aged 14 and under with covid.
These are very difficult waters in which to wade, but – surely – there must come a time when we at least begin to debate whether the impact of the West’s response to the pandemic is too great a price to expect the poor of the world to pay. And – surely – these are the kinds of questions that Christians, of all people, should be starting to ask. The issues are bigger than what time pubs and restaurants in our cities close, and the impact of that on jobs and businesses here. These are issues of global justice. We must remember the poor.